Fifty years on and it is time to remember one of the most innovative albums ever impressed onto wax. A delicious dark and jagged confection of nihilism and sulky sophistication unlike it's Liverpudlian counterpart Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, also now fifty, but which was sunny, funny and a bit vaudeville. Both represent a pair of wildly different bookends. The Velvet Underground and Nico was then a monumental, commercial flop, whilst the Beatles album sold in the millions. With half a century under its belt of shiny studded leather, the Velvets album now has an arc of influence that continues to reach into the hearts of those who wish to create a positive noise.
There is something incongruous about the weather, it is clammy and warm, and the sun is blinding, and yet the music we await really should be delivered in a thunderstorm with lightning bolts scissoring the sky and the rain. The security is airport-like in the wake of the recent Manchester atrocity. Things begin early with Marvin Powell, an eloquent singer songwriter whose efforts have that baroque sophistication of Arthur Lee's most sublime moments,"'Buried" being one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs I've heard in ages. As he finishes, his classy and well received delivery bodes well for the main event, but then the long wait begins, and after two and a half hours, something of a massive endurance test of everyone's patience, expectations become frayed, and rightly so.
What follows is akin to a CD shuffle rendition of a work that deserved better attention and a modicum of respect. The songs aren't played in sequence, the sound is dire and the whole thing reeks of a school project with Cale as the musical director of a rather untutored and unruly troupe. A case of too many kooks spoiling the broth of nostalgia. In an ideal world there would have been one singer to represent Nico, and of sufficient gravitas and star quality to do so. Marianne Faithfull, P.J. Harvey or Anita Lane could have been contenders, and to embody Lou Reed, Nick Cave or Ian McCullough would have laced those shoes quite adequately. The proceedings are disjointed, lacking in vision and cohesion, and apart from Cale, any stars of note. "White Light White Heat" gets thrown in for good measure and all that springs to mind is a sense of absence and the haunting presence of ghosts.
Nadine Shah manages to bring as little class to the proceedings, but Clinic, a Super Furry Animal, The Kills, The Wild Beasts, and The Fat White Family are at best shambling karaoke, a rolling stock of pop-up appearances. Karaoke allows people near songs they should have an exclusion order from, and such is the case here. It didn't have to be an aural carbon copy, but it should have had some sense of professionalism and gravitas.
There is appropriately a minute's silence for those who were so brutally and stupidly extinguished in Manchester a few days before, and then we and they back to the business of the unusual.
The past on display here really is a foreign country. As it limps and shuffles to a cheap conclusion, the original line up appear in all their 1960s monochromatic glory through the mash up backdrops of light on the huge screens, unfortunately reminding the assembled of what we should have had, and what we have lost. John Cale has done his legacy no justice here. In fact the entire album played through the PA and accompanied by historic footage of the Velvet Underground would have better satisfied, and more adequately sufficed.
Most of the songs aren't even his to piss over, and Lou Reed is probably having a malevolent snigger at the lameness of it all with Sterling, Nico & Warhol in their art-rock and silver-lined heaven. - Rob Cochrane
Mr. Cochrane is a poet and writer living in Manchester, England. His work has appeared in Mojo, Attitude, and Dazed & Confused. He has published numerous collections of poems.